How Selflessness is the Reality of Raising Children
By Timothy Jones
In September, my Urban Cusp colleague Angele D. Russell wrote a provocative article with an eye catching title “How Selfishness Factors into Having Children.” I want to take a few moments to address my points of disagreement with her and then talk about what happens after the kids come. Because honestly, whether or not the initial factors are selfish, selflessness is necessary to actually raise your children.
I honestly think Angele’s issue is not really about having kids as much as it is about not being restricted to societal norms and pressures. After naming some societal norms that we are “supposed to do” as a case in point, Angele dismantles the idea of women wearing white on their wedding day. Her point is that this is an arbitrary tradition that has nothing to do with us today, and that forcing people to continue it is baseless. My colleague then goes on to paint to the idea of having children as a similarly socially pressured tradition. The argument is that people are having children because “they should” as opposed to making rational and well thought out decisions.
I recognize her anecdotal evidence, but research suggests that 20 and 30 year olds are both getting married and having children much later than they used to, suggesting that this “societal pressure” is not as strong as it once was. By in large, 20 and 30 year olds are doing what they want to do as opposed to what they are “supposed to do.” Additionally, having children can’t be both socially motivated and selfish. If we argue that people are having kids because society is pressuring them to have them, we can’t also argue that folk are selfishly having those children. Either people are feeling forced into doing it, or they are doing it for selfish intentions.
Furthermore, saying that “you’ve always wanted kids” or that you “want to be a better parent than your parents were” are not necessarily selfish concepts; they actually display a sense of selflessness. To say that you want kids, suggests that you are willing to give up freedom for another life. Many would also argue that there are theological imperatives to having children. Believe me I understand the complexity of the command “to go forth and multiply” and all of the ways that it can be complicated, but suffice it to say that many Christians feel compelled to have children and might consider it selfish not to have children. In fact, if you look at the things that Angele describes that she would need to get straight before she has kids, she is really asking whether she’s willing to do the work necessary to raise the kids.Are you willing to sacrifice and set aside the money necessary for kids? Are you willing to do the work necessary to maintain your marriage while having kids? Angele makes an excellent point here, one that echoes Jesus’ consideration in Luke 14:28 to “count the cost” before making any decision.
While it is good to ponder your preparedness before you have children, my experience and the experience of everyone that I know suggests that you are never "truly" prepared to have children. You can get to a good place physically, and spiritually, and financially, but nothing can prepare you for what it is like to bring another life into this world. In my life it has been the ultimate faith walk. I’d say that regardless of the initial motivation, the only way to actually survive child rearing is to learn to be selfless. Nothing is going to require more sacrifice than raising children. I found that once I became a father, I was even more compelled to fight for justice in this world, more compelled to see my church become a loving and welcoming place, and even more concerned about my family’s financial well being. While I seek balance in my life, my children get more of me than I even have to give.
To the extent that we should make informed and personally motivated decisions, I agree with Angele. But I’d question whether there are many people planning to have children for selfish reasons. As I’ve alluded, I am a father and more specifically I am also 30 years old. I’ve been blessed with a 3-year-old daughter, a 9 month old son and an incredible wife. Even if my wife and I had the slightest inclination of selfish motivation when we were thinking about having children, the experience itself has a completely selfless endeavor- one that has produced unspeakable joy in our lives. If that makes me selfish, it’s a label I wear proudly.Timothy L. Jones affectionately known as “PT” is the Associate Pastor of Ministries and Member Care at St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, MA. A native of Richmond, VA, he played basketball at Amherst College while majoring in Psychology. He received his Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology in 2009 with a specialization in Multicultural Theology. PT is currently pursuing his PH.D. at Boston University in Practical Theology with a focus on homiletics and the building of multiethnic community. He is joined in life and ministry by his wife Nelly and his children Sofia Esperanza and Ezekiel Levi.
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